Saturday, June 13, 2009

PLFC: Acts 10 Cornelius

The Story of Cornelius!

If you want to go back to the food laws in scripture and write a list of clean animals and unclean animals this would be the time to do that - before the story. Clean animals being those that Jews would eat together. Unclean being animals they didn't eat but people from other cultures might eat them.

From the Acts 10 (NIV) :

Part 1

Once in a town named Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius. He was a soldier in the Italian Regiments. He was a leader of 100 men. He and all his family were devout, God-fearing people. He gave generously to those in need. He prayed to God regularly.

(the rest is almost verbatim) "One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"

Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.

"The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. " Send one of your men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner. Simon's house is by the sea."

When the angel left, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Part II
About noon the following day as the men Cornelius sent were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. [Good place to show a picture of a house from that region] He got very hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance [a word to explain]. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. [Lots of things Paul had been taught all his life never to eat. You could say, "taught in his synagogue or church never to eat" I leave that to you...] Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." [People were used to hunting for their food and people on farms used their animals for meat.]!" Use a sheet with stuffed animals or magazine pictures.

"Oh, no, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. [THREE times! If you want to really simulate the story do it 3 x!]

While Peter was wondering what all this meant, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, "Hey! Is Simon, known as Peter there, staying at your house?"

Part III

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men are looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Don't hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."

Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?"

The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. [respected by Peter's people but not one of them] A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. [notice all the hospitality, here. Peter is in someone else's house. Peter doesn't know them.]

Part IV

"The next day" Peter started out with them, and some of Peter's friends from Joppa went along. [Did these strangers stay overnight? Keep noticing all the people involved including whoever was preparing the meal at Simon's.] "The following day" Peter arrived in Caesarea. [These strangers are spending a fair amount of time together.] Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.

But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."

Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"

Cornelius answered: "Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us."[These are well-respected, God-fearing people. They weren't crazy and this wasn't some isolated individual experience.]

Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. [These were people that Peter would never have associated with if God had not gone out of His way to send Peter here.] You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. [Peter watched all these things happen. I want to say they were a matter of public record. This isn't just "spiritual" stuff. These events involved seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling. Peter was there when all these things happened.]

"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Now what? Thinking about the story: That's the story from scripture, pretty much verbatim. It lends itself to acting out. You can use stuffed animals or magazine pictures on the sheet if you want. Then you can get lots of weird foods that most kids would never eat, lol! You can think about people or cultures you would never associate with or share a meal with or travel with or stay over night with.

Your older kids could get into a discussion of Baptism and Baptism in the Holy Spirit or you could just let God's story speak for itself.

But there's more here. Who are the people you've been taught not to associate with? Cornelius was one of these people except that he was someone the Jews respected. He was a man of prayer. He gave to the poor. He feared God but he didn't know Jesus.

The events that Peter was telling Cornelius about had just happened. (These things had just been in the local news). What if (I'm really stretching here) you substitute the names of towns you know?

You could talk about speaking in tongues or baptism in the spirit but you might do better to tell the story of the mighty wind or whatever stories come before this that show God pouring out His spirit before you tell this story and, again, let the stories speak for themselves. I don't even think you need to explain anything. "It's a mystery!" If someone asks me, does God still do these things today? I would say, yes, He does.

Is it odd that no one in the story thinks any of this is wierd? What do you see about the timing of Peter's vision and Cornelius' vision? Notice the conflict between law and the Spirit. It's not clear that Peter changed his eating habits. It is clear that he put all that aside to extend and receive hospitality, to fellowship with someone that he wouldn't normally interact with, and share his faith. Notice how many people are involved. Notice Peter's sense of purpose. And Cornelius. Both Peter and Cornelius are respected in their communities. They couldn't google or use a phone book but Simon the Tanner wasn't hard to find so people along the way must have known him and where he lived...There is something very public (not secretive or private) about all this.

Tell the story. Act it out. Talk about it. See what God will do! (Scary, isn't?) Ask the kids: What kind of craft or activity can you do at home this week that will help you remember what God did? Bring it to share next week. Not all of this will fly with every age group. Tell the story and see what the story says to your kids.

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